CIVIL society organisations say the appointment of Zanu PF gold baron Pedzai “Scott” Sakupwanya to the parliamentary portfolio committee on Mines and Mineral Development, which monitors the mining industry, could result in a conflict of interest as he is underfire for harmful mining practices in Penhalonga.
Sakupwanya faces many questions over his dealings.
This week,Sakupwanya, an ally of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, was appointed to the portfolio committees on Mines and Mining Development and Local Government, Public Works and National Housing.
In December, Sakupwanya controversially rose to become a legislator, albeit through the backdoor after losing in the 23 August general elections to the CCC’s popular Munyaradzi Kufahakutizwi.
Sakupwanya secured the parliamentary seat after Kufahakutizwi was recalled by the impostor secretary-general, Sengezo Tshabangu. Kufahakutizwi was barred from contesting the by-election, leaving Sakupwanya duly elected unopposed.
Sakupwanya’s appointment to the portfolio committee on Mines and Mineral Development has enraged civil society which has been condemning his operations in the mineral-rich Manicaland province that have led to the endangerment of miners and loss of lives.
For instance, on 5 January, the ministry of Mines and Mining Development wrote to Betterbrands Mining Company, owned by Sakupwanya, suspending operations at Redwing Mine in Penhalonga to pave way for investigations, after 15 miners were trapped underground in one of the shafts.
While the miners were all rescued alive, calls for sustainable mining methods at Redwing have been growing louder over the years, amid indications of horrendous working conditions.
An extractive sector watchdog, the Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG), says Sakupwanya’s appointment is likely to result in a conflict of interest as he will now be expected to monitor safe mining practices, yet he is tainted.
“I think there is a clear or rather potential conflict of interest in that the committee was created to monitor mining activities in the country. And since he belongs to the mining sector, he cannot monitor himself. So, it compromises the committee itself in that it will lack that independence to carry out its duties without fear or favour since one of them belongs to the other side,” said Farai Maguwu, CNRG director.
“The committee was setup up to monitor and to keep the sector under check. So, that is my main concern. They could have found him another committee where he does not have a conflict of interest.”
Another pressure group, the Centre for Research and Development (CRD), says Sakupwanya’s appointment shows the Zanu PF government’s penchant for capturing the mining industry for personal gain.
“This is what we have been saying that the mining industry is captured and meant to serve the interests of the political elites. It is very unfortunate that someone who is compromised and responsible for the death of 150 people is now given a portfolio committee to provide oversight in the ministry of mines,” says James Mupfumi, CRD director.
“I think what is here is the drive by the state to establish a kleptocracy. What we are now seeing is a political institution trying to amass wealth from public goods. In trying to protect that wealth, they are now manipulating state institutions and taking control, like what has been happening in the case of Scott Sakupwanya. They appointed someone who is under investigation where his mine has been suspended because of continuous deaths.”
Mupfumi added: “You can see that what is being manipulated here is the judicial system and parliamentary system altogether that allowed Tshabangu’s recall papers to be accepted. So they are now getting into positions of power in government, Parliament and judiciary so they can continue suppressing the people of Zimbabwe.”
Harmful mining practices Sakupwanya’s Betterbrands Mining Company has had a track record of harmful mining practices in Penhalonga.
With over 132 claims in the area alone, Betterbrands has been deeply involved in mining and milling operations at Redwing Mine.
Betterbrands contracts artisanal and small-scale miners to extract and surrender ore to the company, which has become a new mining model, as the company seeks to reduce operational costs.
Redwing has also been a cash cow for politically-connected elites in Mutare and Mutasa in Manicaland province, who have been partly responsible for granting access to mining pits, endangering the lives of artisanal miners who are subjected to horrific working conditions.
On 5 January, the Mines ministry said it is opening investigations into Betterbrands operations, for the third time in four years over harmful mining practices, which have led to endangerment and loss of lives.
According to the letter, Redwing’s mining methods have not been adhering to mining standards such as maintaining pillars between shafts at a distance of not less than 35 metres, while some of the shafts are ill-equipped to prevent collapse.
The letter pointed out that Redwing does not have updated surface and underground plans as per requirements of section 78 of Statutory Instrument (SI)109 of 1990, which requures that all shafts have demarcated infrastructure and contours in compliance with SI 109 of 1990.
As reported by The NewsHawks, mining activity by Better Brands Mining at Redwing Mine and surrounding areas in Manicaland is leaving a trail of destruction, with hazardous chemicals being deposited into Penhalonga’s Lake Alexander which supplies over 25% of the city of Mutare’s drinking water, sparking fears of a health hazard.
The company has been under fire for the pollution of the lake and other surrounding water bodies.
The gold processing plants are illegally accessing gold ore from porous mining activities by Better Brands. These processing plants cannot account to the government for the gold that they are processing because they are not registered.
The miners transport their ore to the company’s milling facility, where mercury is used to extract gold from ore, while others send it to private millers, who dump the toxic waste into surrounding rivers and streams.
Illicit financial flows
Sakupwanya was exposed in the documentary by Qatari-based news organisation Al Jazeera as President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s runner who helped him build a war chest in the run up to the 2023 general elections.
The four-episode explosive documentary showed how the country has been losing gold through illicit flows, spearheaded by people close to Mnangagwa.
In a phone call with Mnangagwa’s envoy, Uebert Angel, Sakupwanya said he can move huge sums of money anywhere in the world.
He was Mnangagwa’s key fundraiser in his 2023 re-election bid and was named in the Zanu PF resource mobilisation committee responsible for fundraising for the party’s campaign.
Angel phoned Sakupwanya and offered him money from Al Jazeera reporters posing as gangsters, so that he could buy gold.
He accepted the offer, promising 10% interest.
Asked by Angel how he can transfer profits to the undercover journalists, Sakupwanya said he can transfer money anywhere in the world. Angel made a call to Sakupwanya who told him he had sold six tonnes of gold in 10 months.
“I guess I can do 10% per month. It depends on where they are from (the investors). If they are from Dubai, I can pay into their Dubai account. Anywhere. Anywhere in the world I can manage to transfer. Not a problem for me,” Sakupwanya said in the phone call.